First Grade Teacher Tips

Hey guys! Kristen here. I’m linking up with Jen over at Sparkling in Second Grade to give you my top 3 tips for teaching first grade.

I am starting my fifth year of teaching. I have spent all of those first four years in first grade and I can’t imagine ever teaching anything else. I know that I still have SO much to learn, but here are three things that I feel like I already know a little bit about.

 It is NOT too early for mental math

When I first started teaching first grade, I thought my little ones were “too little” for mental math. I simply brushed it aside and thought I would be putting too much pressure on them by even introducing it. But, if you never raise the bar, the students will never rise to the occasion.

I teach in Texas, which means we have TEKS instead of Common Core Standards. One of our TEKS relates to students immediately recognizing structured arrangements (tens frames, dominos, dice, etc.). We practice EVERY DAY with our ten frame flashcards for numbers 0-20. You can grab my ten frame flashcards {here}. We test our kids every six weeks for their report card. We give students three seconds to correctly identify the number that the structured arrangement presents.

I have seen SUCH an improvement in my student’s abilities to compose and decompose sets of numbers since we started structured arrangements. It is an early form of mental math that will GREATLY help your students later on.

Sight words, Sight words, Sight words

Parents ask me all the time, “What can I do to help my students?”. My answer is always the same: sight words. Sight words are a tricky business. We tell students that they simply don’t follow the rules, until we find a few that do, which gets CONFUSING.

My advice is to keep switching it up. I made the mistake my first year of using the same routine for sight words the entire year. I thought my students had truly mastered the words, but in reality they had just memorized the order. They were reciting the words, rather than reading them. I use a combination of PowerPoint slideshows, word walls, flashcards, word reading strips, word reading pages and literacy stations.

We test our students on their sight words EVERY WEEK! If the students score a 100 on the “popcorn” word test, they get a bag of popcorn to eat during “Fun Friday” stations. You can read more about how I use sight words and get free flashcard labels {here}.

Read to your students EVERY DAY

I have to admit, this is a struggle for me. There never seems to be enough time in the day and unfortunately this is an activity that usually gets sacrificed. BUT, I feel like this is SO important for your students. Here’s why:
-They need to hear you reading. They need to hear the expression and emotion in your voice. If they never hear it, how can they imitate it?
-They need to see you be silly sometimes. We need to remind our students that we aren’t just their teacher. We need to be silly and over the top sometimes and read-alouds are the PERFECT way to do it.
-We, as teachers, need to put the brakes on sometimes. We need to relax. We need to enjoy the little time we have with our kids.  “I chose to be a teacher for the great pay” said NO TEACHER EVER. We chose our job because we love our kids. Reading to our kids is the perfect time to set aside the to-do list and focus on enjoying our jobs and our students.


  1. These are great! Thanks for the encouragement! Mental math can be hard for such little ones, but we know if we push them and hold them to high standards they can get it! I love your ten frame flashcards too! So smart!

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it can be hard to start mental math but it is also SO rewarding when you see that little light bulb go off!

  2. Reading to my kids is my favorite part of the day! They love to hear a story the way it was meant to be read. I love listing to them trying to sound just like their teacher. The love of reading is infectious and we are the ones that can start it :-)

    1. I absolutely agree!! It is so important to get them to love reading at such a young age! I hope they become readers for life!

  3. Reading to my kids is something I need to do more of! We do so much reading in our reading curriculum, but most of it is the SmartBoard reading to them. I am going to switch to me reading next year and then just do a read aloud at the end of every day!

  4. Thanks for the reminder about subitizing! Last year was my first year teaching first grade so I didn't make it a priority. I noticed some of my first graders still counting amounts to 5 at the end of the year and it made me cringe. I think it's worth it to put the time in this year.


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